Today was a mostly Chinese-themed day. I've been lax in introducing Hanyu into the household, so today I looked up a bunch of verbs in the dictionary and tried to get AwesomeCloud to practice them with me.
pǎo - run
tíng - stop
tiào - jump
tī - kick
He wasn't very interested when I tried to do it at home. He mostly just wanted to watch TV.
But this afternoon he had a kung fu class, and we somehow arrived several minutes early, so while we waited, I had him running around the kwan and following my newly learned Chinese verbs, and then he started to get into it. I think that more practice will help. He responds just fine to words that he's learned before, although he speaks very few of them himself, and is a little resistant to coaching. If I just keep trying, the Chinese vocabulary, what little of it I can offer him, will sink in.
Kung fu itself is a lot of work, as well. The class is taught a little above his age level, most certainly above his maturity level, and he's expected to work hard and practice high levels of concentration. The older kids who take kung fu seriously are good classmates for him, and help him focus a little bit better. (The 'older' kids are four years old, five at the most. So we're not talking much of a range of abilities.) I'm trying to make the work easier for him by psyching him up for class before we arrive, and by practicing at home.
And yes, I realize that no matter what I do, AwesomeCloud is still a three-year-old taking kung fu. He is clearly more humorously adorable than he is fantastically skillful. In his little kung fu uniform with the little orange belt... he makes everyone fawn and giggle at the same time.
But life is full of difficult tasks for people to overcome, and teaching oneself Chinese is definitely a very difficult task, requiring a lot of self-discipline. If Cloud learns a tiny crumb of self-discipline at age 3... I'm not saying he'll be fluent in Chinese in no time, and able to kick the butts of anyone who looks at him funny no matter how big... but if he learns a tiny bit of self-discipline now, he'll open the door to learning a lot of self-discipline later.
And he probably will need it. It's a big ol' world out there, and I can't teach him everything.
It would be really cool if he learned kung fu IN Chinese, but that's not really what this kung fu studio is about, and that would be kind of too much of a niche market for our area, anyhow. (I bet there are a few in Boston.) It's not about being Chinese there; nobody else there is even Chinese. (All those moms who worry that there are only three other Chinese students in their kids' kindergarten class... yeah, we can't do that here. Here, I inwardly cheer if there's a kid who's not blond, and even that doesn't happen every time.) It's about learning kung fu for the self-discipline, and using the self-discipline to learn other things, such as but not limited to Hanyu. And he will get the extra bonus of being able to say that he's studied kung fu (as opposed to tae kwon do or peewee hockey or Suzuki piano or whatever). Now, whether it will bother him that all his kung fu teachers have been non-Chinese people... that will be up to him.
I just want him to have some Chinese people in his life, in some context. And not just in restaurants. Someday, when he's old enough to understand, or probably before, I'll explain that the Asian population has a majority in the world, and that Asian-type people outnumber us pale-type people by almost 3 to 1. I will also tell him that thanks to human migration, he and I have a common ancestor who is not all that far back. But I also want Asian-ness to feel normal to him, and that's quite an achievement around here.
Fortunately, it's not impossible. You see, after kung fu, our family had the great honor of dinner with the Chinese students from my husband's school. They were delightful. They loved AwesomeCloud. They answered my questions about speaking Hanyu. I went over my newly learned verbs with them, and they reinforced and slightly corrected my efforts. They even managed to coax a few words out of Cloud.
When we left their dorm, Cloud happily referred to it as, "Chinese house!"
I'm always glad when he uses the word "Chinese" with a positive tone. He told our friend at the restaurant that she was Chinese, but he said it proudly. If he's not always interested in learning vocabulary when I'm practicing it on him, at least he seems to feel that Chinese things, and being Chinese, are good.
I will be sad and angry when he hears people state otherwise. I'm sure that's coming soon. I hope that maybe non-China-loving people will try to be diplomatic when they're around him when he's a little older. I hope he doesn't allow any anti-Chinese sentiment to sink in until after he's developed a sense of cultural and individual pride.